President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday night laid out several conditions for the resumption of peace talks with communist rebels.
Speaking to reporters in Cagayan de Oro City where he visited the wake for soldiers slain by the communist New People’s Army (NPA), the President said he was willing to talk anew with the rebels if they showed sincerity.
“I’m ready to talk and I’m ready to stop this war. I would prefer for us to not have war, but we need to talk from the heart. I get really hurt if someone from the other side dies. Those are Filipinos,” Duterte said in Visayan language.
The President stressed that the communists should agree to a bilateral ceasefire, stop the collection of the so-called revolutionary tax, and release all captured government men.
“They have to release all policemen, army, everyone from the government. They should release them all.
Second, they should stop asking for revolutionary tax…They should stop asking for things. They’re burning a lot of things now and we’ll never meet each other halfway if that’s the case. It just embarrasses the government. They give us their word but it doesn’t bear any fruit. That’s very difficult,” Duterte said.
“I just want peace. I’m ready as long as we communicate well. I’m ready to resume the ceasefire again, but this time I want it to be sincere. Back then, there was a ceasefire but my soldiers were killed. That’s so difficult. But I’m ready for different kinds of talks. I’m ready to resume the ceasefire again as long as it is working towards peace. I do not want war. It’s a waste of money. Instead of bullets I can buy machines and give it to help others,” he added.
Last month, the President withdrew a unilateral ceasefire declaration and scrapped peace talks with communist rebels, dismayed by rebel attacks and demands such as freedom for all detained rebels.
After terminating the peace talks, Duterte called the communists terrorists and ordered the arrest of National Democratic Front (NDF) consultants temporarily freed for the peace talks in Oslo, Norway and Rome, Italy.
Duterte wanted a bilateral ceasefire agreement that would put in place common rules of engagement for the military and the NPA.
But the NDF demanded the release of around 400 detained rebels before agreeing to sign such a deal. In response, Duterte said he would release some rebel prisoners only after the signing of a bilateral ceasefire deal.
Shot 73 times
In a separate media interview on Friday night in Cagayan de Oro City, Duterte brought up anew the communist rebels’ killing of several soldiers earlier this year amid a ceasefire.
He advised the rebel group to shun hate before going back to the negotiating table.
“You have a ceasefire yet my soldiers were killed. I have a soldier who was shot by an NPA rebel 73 times. I was really displeased with that. How can you do that to a Filipino? You know, that indicates hatred,” Duterte said.
“If you act that way, you’re full of hate, then we cannot talk about peace. There is anger in your heart, there is hate. How will it be possible for us to talk if you have hate in your heart?” he added.
Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza clarified on Saturday that Duterte was not setting preconditions for the resumption of the peace talks with the communist rebels.
“He’s not citing any conditionality. These are what the President wishes,” Dureza told government-run radio station dzRB.
“Please make it very clear that those are not conditions because there should be no conditionality in peace negotiations. There should be no preconditions in the negotiating table,” he added.
Dureza said the President’s wish “could provide the so-called compelling reason” for the peace talks to resume.
“We had always said that when compelling reasons exist, then we would reconsider. So let’s wait for the situation of a compelling reason. The President knows there are many challenges, the peace talks are not easy,” he said.